Sunday, February 28, 2010

St. Augustine and Merely Forensic Justification

It does not appear that St. Augustine’s conception of justification is merely forensic. In Book III of On Free Choice of the Will, he writes:

If…we should see the noble man changed so as to be fit for a heavenly dwelling and then raised to the stars, we would rejoice. But if we should see the depraved criminal, either before or after punishment, raised to a seat of honor in heaven even though he is still as evil as ever, who would not be indignant?

…Unlike the just man…the wicked man, as long as he is wicked, cannot reach the immortality of saints, that is, sublime and angelic immortality…[Book III, chapter IX (pp. 109-110)]

Mere forensic justification does not make the sinner just or holy, as even the Protestant concedes; the claim is that on the basis of what amounts to a legal fiction the sinner is declared “not guilty,” despite the fact that he is still actually a sinner. But St. Augustine here appears to agree with Psalm 14: Such a man isn’t fit for a heavenly dwelling.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Platonic Influence on St. Augustine

St. Augustine exhibits the influence of Platonism on his thinking here and there in On Free Choice of the Will. One example is in his ideas about numbers, as shown in this snippet from Book II, Chapter VIII:

Augustine. If someone were to say to you that numbers were impressed upon our spirit not as a result of their own nature, but as a result of those objects which we experience with the bodily senses, what answer would you make? Or do you agree with this?

Evodius. No, I do not. Even if I did perceive numbers with the bodily senses, I would not be able to perceive with the bodily senses the meaning of division and addition. It is with the light of the mind that I would prove wrong the man who makes an error in addition or subtraction. Whatever I may experience with my bodily senses, such as this air and earth and whatever corporeal matter they contain, I cannot know how long it will endure. But seven and three are ten, not only now, but forever. There has never been a time when seven and three were not ten, nor will there ever be a time when they are not ten. Therefore, I have said that the truth of number is incorruptible and common to all who think.

A. I do not disagree with your answer, for you spoke truly and clearly. [p. 54]

Of course it’s true that arithmetic and math are rational, but it doesn’t follow at all that we know nothing about them by way of our senses. The most obvious reply is that we all learn numbers by way of our senses: we are taught what “one” and “two” are by our parents (or others), who show us what these terms mean. We learn simple addition by way of our senses as well: we are shown one item, and two more are added to it, and we can then count that there are three; in this way we learn that 1 + 2 = 3. Obviously that is just a beginning, and of course reason comes into play in our comprehension of math. But it seems quite mistaken to suppose that we don’t begin to learn about this by way of what we can see and touch.

I think that a useful counter-example may be seen in this article, in which we learn about the Pirahã tribe in Brazil, whose concept of numbers is limited to “one,” “two,” and “many.” As the article says by way of example, they are unable to reliably distinguish between four and five objects in a row. But if “the truth of number is incorruptible and common to all who think,” in the way that St. Augustine apparently suggests, then it seems that the Pirahã tribe must not be able to think. But this is absurd: they are human beings created in the image of God. Therefore we know that they can think. Hence we must say that Augustine’s claim that “the truth of number” is “common to all who think” is incorrect.

St. Augustine argues against an empirical component to our ideas of numbers in a peculiar way. He says that the infinite divisibility of a body argues against means that we must “concede that no body is truly and purely one” (ibid., p. 55). But what does that have to do with whether we may distinguish the idea of one by way of what we see? I don’t think that it has anything to do with it. At the very least it seems to me to be obvious that infinite divisibility doesn’t mean we can’t look at any particular body and say that there is just one of them. The fact that a rock might be divisible doesn’t mean that it’s not a single rock. But Augustine says no: “The perception of one does not occur through any bodily sense” (ibid).

Similar Platonic influence seems to me to be evident in chapter X of Book II, where it appears that he views truth as a sort of subsisting thing somehow. He argues that for a given fact, its truth is not something that one man can hold in opposition to another; rather, its truth is available to all:

A. Can we deny that this fact is true and one, yet common for all who know it? Each man sees it with his own mind, not with mine, yours, or anyone else’s; yet what is seen, is present for all to see in common. We cannot deny this, can we?

E. Of course not.

A. Can anyone call truth his own, when it is present unchangingly, for all to meditate upon who have the power to meditate?

E. No one can truly call truth his own. Truth is one and common to all, just as much as it is true.

A. I shall not ask you any more questions of this kind. It is sufficient that you see and grant, as I do, that it is certain that these judgments are rules and, as it were, lights of virtue; and that true and unchangeable things, whether individually or all together, are present in common for all to meditate upon who have the power to perceive with mind and reason. [p. 61-62]

In chapter XII, he says that immutable truth exists, and it seems that he means that it has some sort of actual being:

You will not deny, therefore, that immutable truth, comprising everything that is immutably true, exists; and you cannot say that immutable truth is yours, or mine, or anyone else’s. It is present and shows itself as a kind of miraculously secret, yet public, light for all who see what is immutably true. [p. 66]

This doesn’t seem to me to be the best account of what truth is. It seems to me that Aquinas’ view, and Aristotle’s, is more reasonable: namely, that something may be said to be true when it conforms to reality.

Friday, February 26, 2010

St. Augustine: The Purpose of Free Will

God did not give us free will as part of some kind of crapshoot. He gave it to us for a reason, says St. Augustine.

If man is a good, and cannot act rightly unless he wills to do so, then he must have free will, without which he cannot act rightly. We must not believe that God gave us free will so that we might sin, just because sin is committed through free will. It is sufficient for our question, why free will should have been given to man, to know that without it man cannot live rightly. That it was given for this reason can be understood from the following: if anyone uses free will for sinning, he incurs divine punishment. This would be unjust if free will had been given not only that man might live rightly, but also that he might sin. For how could a man justly incur punishment who used free will to do the thing for which it was given? When God punishes a sinner, does He not seem to say, “Why have you not used free will for the purpose for which I gave it to you, to act rightly”? Then too, if man did not have free choice of will, how could there exist the good according to which it is just to condemn evildoers and reward those who act rightly? What was not done by will would be neither evildoing nor right action. Both punishment and reward would be unjust if man did not have free will. Moreover, there must needs be justice both in punishment and in reward, since justice is one of the goods that are from God. Therefore, God must needs have given free will to man. [On Free Choice of the Will, II.I, p. 36; emphasis added]

If God gave us free will with the intention that we should be free to use it to sin, then it would be unjust for him to punish us if we sin, says St. Augustine: for we would only be putting it to one of the uses for which God gave it to us. But this is wrong; God did not give us free will for that purpose. He gave us free will in order that we might freely do that which is good. Consequently when we sin, we abuse the gift that he has given to us, and thereby become subject to just punishment.

Note also that he insists upon what we have seen before. That is, justice in punishing us for sin demands that we have free will: “What was not done by will would be neither evildoing nor right action. Both punishment and reward would be unjust if man did not have free will.” If we lack free will, and if our sins are compelled in some way, then they are not actually sins, properly speaking; it would therefore be unjust to punish them as though we were actually responsible for them. This is why Catholic moral teaching insists that compulsion removes guilt, either partly or completely (depending upon the compulsion).

Lastly, note again that St. Augustine insists upon the reward that is justly due to those who do good. But this would only be just if there is a sense in which our good works may be truly said to be our own, and this cannot be said if we do not have free will. St. Augustine was Catholic; he firmly believed that our good deeds merit a reward from God (although, of course, they are completely inadequate as a means by which we may receive initial justification; we may only receive that by means of God’s grace alone, as we have seen many times).

Thursday, February 25, 2010

St. Augustine: The requirements of justice

On Free Choice of the Will begins with a question (it is framed largely as a dialogue between Augustine and his friend Evodius).

Evodius: Tell me, please, whether God is not the cause of evil.

Of course, as St. Augustine points out, this question is silly for the Christian.

But if you know or believe that God is good (and it is not right to believe otherwise), God does not do evil. Also, if we admit that God is just (and it is sacrilege to deny this), He assigns rewards to the righteous and punishments to the wicked—punishments that are indeed evil for those who suffer them. Therefore, if no one suffers punishment unjustly (this too we must believe, since we believe that the universe is governed by divine Providence), God is the cause of the second kind of evil, but not of the first.

It’s not that God causes or does evil in an absolute sense; that would be heretical (as he says in the first sentence) because God is good. There is a relative sense in which he might be said to do “evil,” though, if we are talking about the punishment of the wicked, says our author: the evil man considers punishment to be an evil thing that happens to him. In point of fact, though, Augustine reminds us that God’s justice demands that he punish the wicked and reward the righteous.

Would it be just if God punished the wicked but did not reward the righteous? It seems not, in Augustine’s view. The complaint that might be offered: “You punish them for doing evil, but you do not reward us for doing well.” Some might pretend that no one does good, but the Bible (Mt. 25:31-46) does not seem to bear them out.

Now the book is on free will, and so of course we ought to expect St. Augustine to address its relation to justice.

[E]ach evil man is the cause of his own evildoing. If you doubt this, then listen to what we said above: evil deeds are punished by the justice of God. It would not be just to punish evil deeds if they were not done willfully. [Emphasis added]

God’s justice demands that he punishes evil deeds, but if we are compelled to do them, it simply cannot be said that we are liable for them.

[Quotations above taken from Book I of On Free Choice of the Will, p. 3]

We see the same thing in Book II, chapter I:

Both punishment and reward would be unjust if man did not have free will. [p. 36]

The fact that God foreknows that we will sin does not mean that we lack free will. St. Augustine offers additional arguments about this in the book, but for our purposes here it is sufficient to remark that what we’ve said above applies here as well. If God’s foreknowledge constitutes a compulsion whereby our free will is removed, he could not justly punish the wicked for sin nor reward the righteous for good.

[L]et us acknowledge both that it is proper to His foreknowledge that nothing should escape His notice and that it is proper to His justice that a sin, since it is committed voluntarily, should not go unpunished by His judgment, just as it was not forced to be committed by His foreknowledge.

[Book III, chapter IV; p. 95]

It might be worth pointing out what we’ve seen repeatedly already (and what we see again above) concerning St. Augustine’s views on the reward that awaits the righteous: in short, there is one. He constantly refers to it as a reward for good deeds done. Although he doesn’t use the word in what we’ve seen above, he steadfastly recognizes this reward as something that one merits by his deeds.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

St. Augustine, On Free Choice of the Will: Overview

I will have a few (maybe several) posts on St. Augustine’s On Free Choice of the Will. I don’t have an online link to this book. Surprisingly to me, it’s not available at New Advent. I presume this is because it is peculiarly omitted from The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers series. I am not familiar with the theological predispositions of the editors and translators of NPNF, but it strikes me as odd that this particular work would not be included.

On the other hand, if those editors were of any sort of Reformed stripe that really took seriously (as Calvinists do) their doctrine of predestination, I think we might be able to arrive at an answer. Because if there is anything that On Free Choice of the Will is not, it is predestinarian. It has, admittedly, been a while, but I am at a loss to think of any books by Reformed authors on the subject of man’s free will. My wife suspects that (possibly) Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God might have, but even if that’s so, it’s but one book (and by a man that at least some Reformed types aren’t too keen to claim as one of their own). Let us compromise and suggest that there may be some very few books on the subject from the Reformed camp. In general, though, they simply do not write books about it; and in many cases what they write about free will is intended to deny that we have it.

But St. Augustine was not Calvinist. He was not Reformed. He was Catholic. And so he was perfectly willing to write such a book as this, because of course the Catholic Church teaches both that we have a free will and that God has an eternal plan of predestination.

Another striking feature of the book as a whole is that The Doctor appealed to Scripture very little. Most of the argument is strictly philosophical—something else that is doubtless unappetizing to many Reformed. There is also at least one theological oddity that might perhaps embarrass those who disagree with St. Augustine about it…But we’ll save that for a post of its own.

It’s also worth noting, for the sake of those who might try to suggest that On Free Choice of the Will was somehow superseded by St. Augustine’s later writings, that this is quite simply not the case. While in fact it was written very early in his Christian life, he revisited it in his Retractations (near the end of his life) because the Pelagians were ripping quotations from it for their own use. Far from overturning anything that he actually wrote in the book, though, all he does is make clear that they were taking things out of context. In short: he certainly did not repudiate the views in this book. [Source for the material in this paragraph may be found in the Appendix (pp. 151-158) of the edition of On Free Choice of the Will linked above; it includes both the text of the Retractations pertinent to this book and historical notes from the translators].

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

We are not worthy; we pray to be made worthy

I post on this subject often, because I find the lies spread by our enemies about it (whether they do so wittingly or not) to be particularly vexing.

A standard prayer said by Catholics when they pray the Rosary is this:

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Note: we do not ask the Blessed Virgin to pray for us because we are worthy; we ask it in order that we may be made worthy. We pray this because we long to be worthy of Christ’s promises; we pray this because we understand that unless we receive grace to be worthy of them, we shall never be.

So much, once again, for the lie of our enemies that we think we can earn our way to heaven based upon our own merits.

Monday, February 22, 2010

St. Augustine Approves Catholic Truth

This post presents indirect evidence that St. Augustine was Catholic and not some sort of proto-crypto-forerunner of Protestantism. In On Christian Doctrine Book IV, chapter 21, he quotes St. Cyprian concerning the Cup in the Eucharist. In this part of the quotation, he affirms the authority of Tradition:

“Observe” he says, “that we are instructed, in presenting the cup, to maintain the custom handed down to us from the Lord, and to do nothing that our Lord has not first done for us: so that the cup which is offered in remembrance of Him should be mixed with wine.”

But the Bible doesn’t say a thing about whether there should be water mixed with the wine in the Chalice. So it’s clear that St. Cyprian is appealing to Sacred Tradition here, rather than the Bible.

Nor can it be held that His blood, by which we are redeemed and vivified, is in the chalice when it contains no wine, through which the blood of Christ is shown, as is foretold by all the mysteries and testimonies of the Scriptures. [Ibid., quoted from the Robertson translation]

If Christ’s blood is not in the Cup when there is no wine (as Cyprian affirms), then it must be the case that Christ’s blood is in it when the wine is there.

Later (paragraph 47), St. Augustine quotes St. Cyprian again, this time concerning virgins:

Now our discourse addresses itself to the virgins, who, as they are the objects of higher honor, are also the objects of greater care. These are the flowers on the tree of the Church, the glory and ornament of spiritual grace, the joy of honor and praise, a work unbroken and unblemished, the image of God answering to the holiness of the Lord, the brighter portion of the flock of Christ. The glorious fruitfulness of their mother the Church rejoices in them, and in them flourishes more abundantly; and in proportion as bright virginity adds to her numbers, in the same proportion does the mother’s joy increase. And at another place in the end of the epistle, ‘As we have borne,’ he says, ‘the image of the earthly, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.’ Virginity bears this image, integrity bears it, holiness and truth bear it; they bear it who are mindful of the chastening of the Lord, who observe justice and piety, who are strong in faith, humble in fear, steadfast in the endurance of suffering, meek in the endurance of injury, ready to pity, of one mind and of one heart in brotherly peace. And every one of these things ought ye, holy virgins, to observe, to cherish, and fulfill, who having hearts at leisure for God and for Christ, and having chosen the greater and better part, lead and point the way to the Lord, to whom you have pledged your vows. You who are advanced in age, exercise control over the younger. You who are younger, wait upon the elders, and encourage your equals; stir up one another by mutual exhortations; provoke one another to glory by emulous examples of virtue; endure bravely, advance in spirituality, finish your course with joy; only be mindful of us when your virginity shall begin to reap its reward of honor.

And similarly in paragraph 48, St. Ambrose (Augustine’s father in the Faith):

Ambrose also uses the temperate and ornamented style when he is holding up before virgins who have made their profession a model for their imitation, and says: “She was a virgin not in body only, but also in mind; not mingling the purity of her affection with any dross of hypocrisy; serious in speech; prudent in disposition; sparing of words; delighting in study; not placing her confidence in uncertain riches, but in the prayer of the poor; diligent in labor; reverent in word; accustomed to look to God, not man, as the guide of her conscience; injuring no one, wishing well to all; dutiful to her elders, not envious of her equals; avoiding boastfulness, following reason, loving virtue. When did she wound her parents even by a look? When did she quarrel with her neighbors? When did she spurn the humble, laugh at the weak, or shun the indigent? She is accustomed to visit only those haunts of men that pity would not blush for, nor modesty pass by. There is nothing haughty in her eyes, nothing bold in her words, nothing wanton in her gestures: her bearing is not voluptuous, nor her gait too free, nor her voice petulant; so that her outward appearance is an image of her mind, and a picture of purity. For a good house ought to be known for such at the very threshold, and show at the very entrance that there is no dark recess within, as the light of a lamp set inside sheds its radiance on the outside. Why need I detail her sparingness in food, her superabundance in duty,— the one falling beneath the demands of nature, the other rising above its powers? The latter has no intervals of intermission, the former doubles the days by fasting; and when the desire for refreshment does arise, it is satisfied with food such as will support life, but not minister to appetite.” Now I have cited these latter passages as examples of the temperate style, because their purpose is not to induce those who have not yet devoted themselves to take the vows of virginity, but to show of what character those who have taken vows ought to be. To prevail on any one to take a step of such a nature and of so great importance, requires that the mind should be excited and set on fire by the majestic style. Cyprian the martyr, however, did not write about the duty of taking up the profession of virginity, but about the dress and deportment of virgins. Yet that great bishop urges them to their duty even in these respects by the power of a majestic eloquence.

We may safely infer Augustine’s agreement with these authorities when he says—without a hint of disapprobation—“have cited these latter passages as examples of the temperate style, because their purpose is not to induce those who have not yet devoted themselves to take the vows of virginity, but to show of what character those who have taken vows ought to be.” But if this is insufficient, he goes even further in paragraph 50:

Now in these two authors whom I have selected as specimens of the rest, and in other ecclesiastical writers who both speak the truth and speak it well—speak it, that is, judiciously, pointedly, and with beauty and power of expression—many examples may be found of the three styles of speech, scattered through their various writings and discourses; and the diligent student may by assiduous reading, intermingled with practice on his own part, become thoroughly imbued with them all. [Emphasis added]

So we see that St. Augustine’s judgment is that St. Cyprian and St. Ambrose speak the truth in the passages that he has quoted from them concerning the Eucharist and concerning consecrated virginity. But these are Catholic views, not Protestant. So once again we see that St. Augustine was a Catholic.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

St. Augustine: Preaching Inspires Good Works in Hope of Reward

St. Augustine says that biblical preaching inspires men to good works, in hope of an eternal reward.

Of course, if we were giving men advice as to how they ought to conduct secular cases, either for themselves or for their connections, before the church courts, we would rightly advise them to conduct them quietly as matters of little moment. But we are treating of the manner of speech of the man who is to be a teacher of the truths which deliver us from eternal misery and bring us to eternal happiness; and wherever these truths are spoken of, whether in public or private, whether to one or many, whether to friends or enemies, whether in a continuous discourse or in conversation, whether in tracts, or in books, or in letters long or short, they are of great importance. Unless indeed we are prepared to say that, because a cup of cold water is a very trifling and common thing, the saying of our Lord that he who gives a cup of cold water to one of His disciples shall in no wise lose his reward, is very trivial and unimportant. Or that when a preacher takes this saying as his text, he should think his subject very unimportant, and therefore speak without either eloquence or power, but in a subdued and humble style. Is it not the case that when we happen to speak on this subject to the people, and the presence of God is with us, so that what we say is not altogether unworthy of the subject, a tongue of fire springs up out of that cold water which inflames even the cold hearts of men with a zeal for doing works of mercy in hope of an eternal reward? [On Christian Doctrine, IV.xviii.37]

The Protestant denies that we should do good works in hope of receiving an eternal reward, but St. Augustine affirms that it is a good thing—indeed, something that is to be expected as a result of good preaching. Once again we see that St. Augustine was a Catholic.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

St. Augustine and the Public Teaching of the Bible

Sometimes it is better not to teach the Bible in public, says St. Augustine.

For there are some passages which are not understood in their proper force, or are understood with great difficulty, at whatever length, however clearly, or with whatever eloquence the speaker may expound them; and these should never be brought before the people at all, or only on rare occasions when there is some urgent reason. [On Christian Doctrine, IV.ix.23]

Clearly then St. Augustine is saying that prudence must rule with regard to the presentation of the Bible to people. Some parts of Scripture are apparently so likely to cause problems for others’ faith that it is best to avoid them in public. This insistence upon discretion with regard to God’s Word is really not so different in principle from the limitations that the Church placed upon access to the Scriptures in around the time of the Reformation, it seems to me. There were heretical translations from which the people needed to be protected. Even more importantly, most people lacked the tools (educationally and otherwise) to properly handle the Bible. Of course, this is still true even today, but I digress. The point is that St. Augustine placed a higher premium on the preservation of people’s faith than on the exposition of literally anything in Scripture. This is a Catholic attitude.

Friday, February 19, 2010

St. Augustine and Hermeneutics - Multiple Meanings are Providential

We have seen this before. St. Augustine absolutely believed that multiple meanings in Scripture were not simply legitimate, but a provision of the divine authorship. In fact, in his view this was more important than whether we can discern the human author’s intended meaning or not.

When, again, not some one interpretation, but two or more interpretations are put upon the same words of Scripture, even though the meaning the writer intended remain undiscovered, there is no danger if it can be shown from other passages of Scripture that any of the interpretations put on the words is in harmony with the truth. And if a man in searching the Scriptures endeavors to get at the intention of the author through whom the Holy Spirit spoke, whether he succeeds in this endeavor, or whether he draws a different meaning from the words, but one that is not opposed to sound doctrine, he is free from blame so long as he is supported by the testimony of some other passage of Scripture. For the author perhaps saw that this very meaning lay in the words which we are trying to interpret; and assuredly the Holy Spirit, who through him spoke these words, foresaw that this interpretation would occur to the reader, nay, made provision that it should occur to him, seeing that it too is founded on truth. For what more liberal and more fruitful provision could God have made in regard to the Sacred Scriptures than that the same words might be understood in several senses, all of which are sanctioned by the concurring testimony of other passages equally divine? [On Christian Doctrine, III.xxvii.38; emphasis added]

It seems clear that in the opinion of St. Augustine, to limit the legitimate meanings of the Bible solely to the one intended by the human author is the same as to completely discount the divine authorship. We might suppose that this is analogous to what Joseph told his brothers: “You intended evil against me, but God intended it for good” (Genesis 50:20, CCD). In that situation, God’s purposes were certainly distinct from those of the human actors. That is, we may have our own purposes and intentions in mind, but God has his own as well, and his purposes cannot be thwarted.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

St. Augustine and the Goal of Hermeneutics

St. Augustine has this to say about the end of Bible interpretation:

Accordingly, in regard to figurative expressions, a rule such as the following will be observed, to carefully turn over in our minds and meditate upon what we read till an interpretation be found that tends to establish the reign of love. Now, if when taken literally it at once gives a meaning of this kind, the expression is not to be considered figurative. [On Christian Doctrine, III.xv.23]

Mere theology doesn’t even enter the picture; rather, he says that we should read the Bible in order to be able to fulfill the two greatest commandments.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

And now for something completely different

In the past I’ve taken a break from blogging during Lent. This year will be different. I have set myself a goal of publishing at least one post for each day of the year. I may not post everyday, but if I miss one then I must make it up sometime. My intent in pursuing this goal is to give myself some incentive for studying, and for writing about what I read. In short, the goal is an incentive for discipline.

So, you should expect to see posts from me everyday throughout Lent, and throughout the rest of the year. May God bless these labors for good.

St. Augustine, the uses of things, and motives

In the past I have pointed out the rational and moral illegitimacy of the charges brought by psychics against Catholics with regard to kneeling before statues. The rational person acknowledges that worship is a matter of the heart, and that therefore whether kneeling before a statue constitutes an act of worship is dependent upon the intentions of the one kneeling. The irrational person agrees that worship is a matter of the heart, and then says that all kneeling before a statue is worship without regard to the intentions of the one kneeling. And then this same irrational person demands that we take his worthless criticism (worthless because it is irrational) seriously. I would laugh in his face if this wasn’t the Internet :-)

St. Augustine has the following to say about things, their uses, and motives:

18. Those things, again, whether only sayings or whether actual deeds, which appear to the inexperienced to be sinful, and which are ascribed to God, or to men whose holiness is put before us as an example, are wholly figurative, and the hidden kernel of meaning they contain is to be picked out as food for the nourishment of charity. Now, whoever uses transitory objects less freely than is the custom of those among whom he lives, is either temperate or superstitious; whoever, on the other hand, uses them so as to transgress the bounds of the custom of the good men about him, either has a further meaning in what he does, or is sinful. In all such matters it is not the use of the objects, but the lust of the user, that is to blame. Nobody in his sober senses would believe, for example, that when our Lord's feet were anointed by the woman with precious ointment, it was for the same purpose for which luxurious and profligate men are accustomed to have theirs anointed in those banquets which we abhor. For the sweet odor means the good report which is earned by a life of good works; and the man who wins this, while following in the footsteps of Christ, anoints His feet (so to speak) with the most precious ointment. And so that which in the case of other persons is often a sin, becomes, when ascribed to God or a prophet, the sign of some great truth. Keeping company with a harlot, for example, is one thing when it is the result of abandoned manners, another thing when done in the course of his prophecy by the prophet Hosea. Hosea 1:2 Because it is a shamefully wicked thing to strip the body naked at a banquet among the drunken and licentious, it does not follow that it is a sin to be naked in the baths.

19. We must, therefore, consider carefully what is suitable to times and places and persons, and not rashly charge men with sins. For it is possible that a wise man may use the daintiest food without any sin of epicurism or gluttony, while a fool will crave for the vilest food with a most disgusting eagerness of appetite. And any sane man would prefer eating fish after the manner of our Lord, to eating lentils after the manner of Esau, or barley after the manner of oxen. For there are several beasts that feed on commoner kinds of food, but it does not follow that they are more temperate than we are. For in all matters of this kind it is not the nature of the things we use, but our reason for using them, and our manner of seeking them, that make what we do either praiseworthy or blameable. [On Christian Doctrine, III.xii.18-19; emphasis added]

Yes, he’s talking about food in 19; but he is talking about all “transitory objects” in 18. But the principle is the same: i.e., extending charity to our fellow man when it comes to questions of his actions and intentions. When we do not know the other man’s intentions it is rash to impute sin to him; when we do know his intentions are not sinful, it is wicked to ignore what he says and impute sin anyway: it is to lie or willfully believe lies about another. I sincerely wish that the anti-Catholic mind-readers who pretend St. Augustine was crypto-proto-Protestant would follow his advice here. Honest disagreement is one thing; irrational dishonesty is another, and simply foments disunity.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

St. Augustine and Hermeneutics - Distinguishing Literal and Figurative

St. Augustine wrote On Christian Doctrine as a guide to interpreting the Bible. Fundamental to this is of course his insistence that Scripture has both literal and a figurative meanings; the literal meaning intended by the human author is not at all the only significance of any passage, because God is the “real” author of the Bible. How then do we know when to take a passage figuratively rather than literally?

In the first place, then, we must show the way to find out whether a phrase is literal or figurative. And the way is certainly as follows: Whatever there is in the word of God that cannot, when taken literally, be referred either to purity of life or soundness of doctrine, you may set down as figurative. [III.x.14]

This tells us more than just that single principle, actually. He also hereby tells us something of his understanding of what exactly the purpose of the Bible is: that is, it is to instruct us concerning how to live and what to believe. This being the case, then, any passage that doesn’t literally have something to do with either of those goals must be interpreted figuratively. The human author may not have intended this, but God must have.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Theology of St. Thomas: The Dogmatic Authority of the Pope

Somehow I missed this while reading the Summa Theologiae a few years ago. A cordial tip of the hat to Bryan Cross for pointing it out.

Who has authority to convoke a general council? The Pope.

The symbol [i.e., the Creed – RdP] was drawn up by a general council. Now such a council cannot be convoked otherwise than by the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff, as stated in the Decretals [Dist. xvii, Can. 4,5]. [ST, II-II, Q1, A10; emphasis added]

Who has authority to draw up a symbol? The Pope. Why? Because he alone has authority to convoke a general council, such as the one that drew up the Creed. But if he alone has that authority, then:

Therefore it belongs to the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff to draw up a symbol. [Ibid.]

Why would the creed need to be revised?

[A] new edition of the symbol becomes necessary in order to set aside the errors that may arise. [Ibid.]

But if this is necessary in order to eradicate error, then it seems that such a revision must have sufficient authority so as to preserve the faith. Hence St. Thomas writes:

Consequently to publish a new edition of the symbol belongs to that authority which is empowered to decide matters of faith finally, so that they may be held by all with unshaken faith. Now this belongs to the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff, “to whom the more important and more difficult questions that arise in the Church are referred,” as stated in the Decretals [Dist. xvii, Can. 5].

In other words then, the Pope has the authority to rule in regard to matters of faith, specifically so that the faithful may believe them “with unshaken faith.” But this implies that these matters are decided not just with final authority but also infallibly, else the faithful would have no basis in his decisions for holding an “unshaken faith.”

Some might mistake St. Thomas’ appeal to the Decretals as suggesting that this authority was merely held canonically—i.e., by human law—and not by virtue of any divine vesting of authority in the papal office. But he goes on to say immediately afterwards:

Hence our Lord said to Peter whom he made Sovereign Pontiff (Luke 22:32): “I have prayed for thee,” Peter, “that thy faith fail not, and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren.”

In other words, this authority of the Pope ultimately derives from the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave it to St. Peter. Obviously this authority must descend to his successors, in St. Thomas’ view; hence the doctrine of apostolic succession is unambiguously in view here as well.

What theological necessity is there for this?

The reason of this is that there should be but one faith of the whole Church, according to 1 Corinthians 1:10: “That you all speak the same thing, and that there be no schisms among you:” and this could not be secured unless any question of faith that may arise be decided by him who presides over the whole Church, so that the whole Church may hold firmly to his decision. Consequently it belongs to the sole authority of the Sovereign Pontiff to publish a new edition of the symbol, as do all other matters which concern the whole Church, such as to convoke a general council and so forth.

The Pope’s authority is given, says St. Thomas, for the sake of the unity of faith of the Church. This unity would be impossible if the Pope, St. Peter’s successor, lacked this authority.

The answers St. Thomas gives to objections in this article are likewise very instructive. To the claim that no further specification of the articles of faith is needed, he says:

The truth of faith is sufficiently explicit in the teaching of Christ and the apostles. But since, according to 2 Peter 3:16, some men are so evil-minded as to pervert the apostolic teaching and other doctrines and Scriptures to their own destruction, it was necessary as time went on to express the faith more explicitly against the errors which arose.

So the articles of the faith grow not because there are new truths, but rather because new errors arise that must be refuted, for the sake of the preserving the unity of faith of the Church (as we saw above).

In response to the claim that the Council of Ephesus’ prohibition against any Creed than that of Nicaea likewise binds the Pope, he says:

This prohibition and sentence of the council was intended for private individuals, who have no business to decide matters of faith: for this decision of the general council did not take away from a subsequent council the power of drawing up a new edition of the symbol, containing not indeed a new faith, but the same faith with greater explicitness. For every council has taken into account that a subsequent council would expound matters more fully than the preceding council, if this became necessary through some heresy arising. Consequently this belongs to the Sovereign Pontiff, by whose authority the council is convoked, and its decision confirmed.

The Council of Ephesus, he says, had no intention of preventing the Pope from exercising his authority to draw up a new symbol, since this would only be done for the sake of clarifying the Faith in the event of new errors.

In response to the objection that the example of Athanasius’ declaration of faith implied that any bishop could act similarly (rather than only the Pope), St. Thomas says this:

Athanasius drew up a declaration of faith, not under the form of a symbol, but rather by way of an exposition of doctrine, as appears from his way of speaking. But since it contained briefly the whole truth of faith, it was accepted by the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff, so as to be considered as a rule of faith.

In other words, it was the Pope’s ratification of the creed of Athanasius that validated it; its authority for the whole Church would not otherwise stand.

The Catholic Church has a visible head in order to maintain the unity of the faithful. The Pope has authority from the Lord Jesus Christ to exercise this office.

St. Augustine and the veneration of things

St. Augustine differs from the average Protestant in affirming that there may well indeed be a place for proper veneration of things.

Now he is in bondage to a sign who uses, or pays homage to, any significant object without knowing what it signifies: he, on the other hand, who either uses or honors [sic; see below – RdP] a useful sign divinely appointed, whose force and significance he understands, does not honor the sign which is seen and temporal, but that to which all such signs refer. Now such a man is spiritual and free even at the time of his bondage, when it is not yet expedient to reveal to carnal minds those signs by subjection to which their carnality is to be overcome. To this class of spiritual persons belonged the patriarchs and the prophets, and all those among the people of Israel through whose instrumentality the Holy Spirit ministered unto us the aids and consolations of the Scriptures. But at the present time, after that the proof of our liberty has shone forth so clearly in the resurrection of our Lord, we are not oppressed with the heavy burden of attending even to those signs which we now understand, but our Lord Himself, and apostolic practice, have handed down to us a few rites in place of many, and these at once very easy to perform, most majestic in their significance, and most sacred in the observance; such, for example, as the sacrament of baptism, and the celebration of the body and blood of the Lord. And as soon as any one looks upon these observances he knows to what they refer, and so reveres them not in carnal bondage, but in spiritual freedom. Now, as to follow the letter, and to take signs for the things that are signified by them, is a mark of weakness and bondage; so to interpret signs wrongly is the result of being misled by error. He, however, who does not understand what a sign signifies, but yet knows that it is a sign, is not in bondage. And it is better even to be in bondage to unknown but useful signs than, by interpreting them wrongly, to draw the neck from under the yoke of bondage only to insert it in the coils of error. [On Christian Doctrine, III.ix.13; emphasis added]

Disclaimer: I do not read Latin. The difference in word choice between the two translations at my disposal (the NPNF translation linked above, and Robertson in the Library of Liberal Arts) was sufficiently striking in one respect as to inspire a little digging. The NPNF version says, in the second half of the first sentence, “he, on the other hand, who either uses or honors a useful sign…” But Robertson has this: “But he who uses or venerates a useful sign…”! So I thought I’d do a little digging and see if it might be obvious, lexically, whether one was a more likely rendering than the other. It appears that Robertson might be the more accurate one here.

In comparing a few Latin dictionaries I’ve got on hand, it seems pretty clear that the general semantic domain of the Latin veneratur is more towards the sense of reverence, veneration, and very great respect rather than towards the more generic, lesser sense of mere “honor.” Obviously in certain respects there is not a whole lot of difference between the two words, so it is certainly possible (based upon the little that I am able to do) that St. Augustine meant the lesser sense…but given that a fairly modern translation has used “venerates,” it seems reasonably more likely—given the word’s apparent usual semantic range—that “venerates” is more accurate.

Now, setting that foray into linguistics aside, the important thing I want to point out in this post is that St. Augustine here affirms that there may indeed be a proper veneration accorded to things. Here, he suggests that this respect is given to the thing as a way of indirectly venerating that which the thing signifies, and this is exactly the sort of thing that the Catholic means by his veneration of things, including the sacraments and holy relics. And that the latter is certainly included (though unspoken) in what Augustine says here seems to me to be strongly suggested by his attitude toward the veneration of the relics of certain martyrs in his own day, as we have seen previously.

Things in themselves are not what the Catholic venerates, but rather God himself, his grace, and his mighty works for our salvation—it is these that we honor when we kiss the cross or venerate relics. And it seems pretty clear that St. Augustine affirmed doing so. And the very fact that he did so shows that he was a Catholic, and not a Protestant.

Nevertheless, it probably ought to be said that showing respect to objects for the sake of that which they signify is a universally human experience. Even Protestants show respect for their Bibles, for example: I certainly can’t imagine any Christian (to say nothing of only Protestants) spitting on God’s Word, for example. People usually honor the flag of their country. They show respect for the remains of departed family: it isn’t just a carcass (can you imagine anyone referring to a dead parent’s body that way?); those aren’t just ashes. Americans show respect to the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Generally speaking such respect for these things has nothing to do with worshiping the things themselves, but rather with showing proper respect, reverence, and honor for what they signify.

Now if we show respect and honor for objects that signify earthly things, how much more ought we to show respect for things that signify in some way God, his works for us, our salvation, and so forth? And to do so is not to “worship” those objects any more than it is “worship” to show respect for the dead body of a departed loved one.

We certainly ought to venerate these things, including the saints. But it ought to be obvious, then, that no actual worship (in the sense of that which ought to be offered to God alone) should ever nor could ever be seriously offered by a Catholic to these things. Because what is important is not the thing in itself, but that which it signifies; and the saints, however much we respect them, signify something beyond themselves: our communion with God in eternity (among other things).

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Bryan Cross on St. Thomas, Faith, and the Church

Here is an excellent article by Bryan Cross on the subject of St. Thomas’ view of the relation of faith to the Church. In it, he interacts with II-II Q5 A3 of the Summa Theologiae (“Whether a man who disbelieves one article of faith, can have lifeless faith in the other articles?”). We have examined this important article in the past here at The Supplement, focusing upon its significance for so-called “cafeteria Catholics,” who want to pick and choose what they believe among the teachings of the Church. Mr. Cross speaks more generally and at greater length on Aquinas’ meaning in this article, and with greater clarity. I commend it to you.

Now, in the present time, dissent on various teachings of the Church is commonplace, even among Catholics. One can reject the authority of the Church outright, as dissenting Catholics do, or one can fashion a ‘Church’ in one’s own interpretive image, as Protestants do, and convince oneself that one is submitting to the Church. But both actions are rejections of the divinely established authority through which faith adheres to the articles of faith. For the reasons St. Thomas explains, where there is faith there can be no picking and choosing from among the Church’s teachings, because what makes faith to be faith is not essentially the set of articles believed, but the basis on which they are believed, namely, the authority of God, given to the Church to teach and interpret the deposit of faith.

Faith is not faith merely because of what is believed, he says, but because of the basis on which things are believed, which must be (as St. Thomas says) the authority of the Church.

Consequently whoever does not adhere, as to an infallible and Divine rule, to the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth manifested in Holy Writ, has not the habit of faith, but holds that which is of faith otherwise than by faith.

St. Augustine and Difficult Passages of the Bible

The Protestant says that Scripture interprets Scripture: in other words, that the Bible is its own ultimate interpreter. While it is certainly true that consideration of context is essential in understanding any work, there are limitations to its utility. If we say that clear passages must be used to help us understand passages that are unclear, the obvious problem is that we do not all agree (and Protestants certainly do not all agree) as to what passages ought to be considered “clear” (and therefore appropriate as helps in interpretation) or “unclear” (and consequently subject to the hermeneutical “grid” of the “clear” passages). For example, if we take St. Peter’s Pentecost sermon as an example of a clear passage, we might conclude that faith is not necessary for salvation at all, but only repentance and baptism. This is certainly not a Protestant view, and it’s not Catholic either. But then one might reasonably ask how it is that St. Peter’s (of all people) argument should not be construed as a “clear” passage of the Bible.

In Book III.ii.2 of On Christian Doctrine, St. Augustine addresses this sort of question.

But when proper words make Scripture ambiguous, we must see in the first place that there is nothing wrong in our punctuation or pronunciation. Accordingly, if, when attention is given to the passage, it shall appear to be uncertain in what way it ought to be punctuated or pronounced, let the reader consult the rule of faith which he has gathered from the plainer passages of Scripture, and from the authority of the Church, and of which I treated at sufficient length when I was speaking in the first book about things. But if both readings, or all of them (if there are more than two), give a meaning in harmony with the faith, it remains to consult the context, both what goes before and what comes after, to see which interpretation, out of many that offer themselves, it pronounces for and permits to be dovetailed into itself. [emphasis added]

St. Augustine agrees that “plainer passages” ought to help us in interpretation, but no less importantly he also insists upon the authority of the Church as a guide in hermeneutics, and that whatever meaning we find must be consistent with the Faith taught by the Church. This is consistent with what we find in the Catechism—a truth that I have emphasized repeatedly here at The Supplement (most recently in this post):

Read the Scripture within “the living Tradition of the whole Church.” [CCC §113]

The Christian goes astray if he thinks that he can interpret the Bible according to his own lights, ignoring the Faith as it has been delivered to the Church and faithfully taught by her throughout the centuries. The Bible does not and cannot contradict that Faith, and any interpretation of Scripture which proposes to do so is an interpretation gone astray. It is not true.

This is clearly the viewpoint of St. Augustine in the passage we’ve quoted above, and it is still more evidence that the great Doctor was no Protestant. He was a Catholic.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

St. Augustine - Church and Scripture go together

This is merely an observation, and it isn’t a point that St. Augustine makes, but in passing I think it is worth noticing. While giving examples about valid reasoning as it bears upon interpretation of Scripture, he concludes chapter 31 (paragraph 49) of book II of On Christian Doctrine with this:

But the truth of propositions must be inquired into in the sacred books of the Church.

For purposes of this post, what I am interested in is the phrase “sacred books of the Church.” St. Augustine does not appear to hold to a view of the Scripture as something that is utterly distinct from the Church. Rather, it seems that he considers them as two things that go together: Scripture and the Church, so that the Bible is understood as belonging to the Church. This doesn’t seem to me to be the sort of thing that a Protestant would say: “the church’s Bible.” But it is the sort of thing that Augustine was willing to say by way of an apparent recognition that the two go together.

This seems to be consistent with a Catholic view, inasmuch as the Church insists that Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium “go together.”

Friday, February 12, 2010

St. Augustine and the Authority of the Septuagint

It’s likely that virtually all modern men would consider St. Augustine’s views of the Septuagint (hereafter LXX) to be unfortunate and badly ill-informed. In chapter xv of On Christian Doctrine Book II, he claims (on the basis of traditions passed down to him) that the translation of the LXX was divinely superintended.

[T]he authority of the Septuagint is pre-eminent as far as the Old Testament is concerned; for it is reported through all the more learned churches that the seventy translators enjoyed so much of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in their work of translation, that among that number of men there was but one voice. And if, as is reported, and as many not unworthy of confidence assert, they were separated during the work of translation, each man being in a cell by himself, and yet nothing was found in the manuscript of any one of them that was not found in the same words and in the same order of words in all the rest, who dares put anything in comparison with an authority like this, not to speak of preferring anything to it? (paragraph 22)

Whatever criticisms we may make of this argument for the basis of the authority of the LXX (and the story has long been regarded as spurious), at the very least we must concede that it was considered an authoritative translation of Scripture, as evidenced not least by the fact that the apostles quoted from it.

St. Augustine also argues that the LXX was providentially ordained for the preservation of canonical books the Jews later omitted:

Wherefore, even if anything is found in the original Hebrew in a different form from that in which these men have expressed it, I think we must give way to the dispensation of Providence which used these men to bring it about, that books which the Jewish race were unwilling, either from religious scruple or from jealousy, to make known to other nations, were, with the assistance of the power of King Ptolemy, made known so long beforehand to the nations which in the future were to believe in the Lord. [ibid.]

My purpose here is to show that St. Augustine certainly did not seem to consider the opinion of the Jews as definitive for the canon of the Old Testament, as we have seen in another post.

Some might try and jump on the fact that St. Augustine received as true a tradition concerning the LXX that we know to be false, in order to suggest that tradition cannot be trusted. But the Catholic doctrine of infallibility does not extend to questions of historicity of the Septuagint. The Catholic doctrine of infallibility relates to questions of faith and morals. The fact that St. Augustine held to a view of the LXX that we know to be false in no way undermines the validity of Sacred Tradition for the transmission of the Faith.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

St. Augustine and the Canon of Scripture

St. Augustine wrote On Christian Doctrine as a guide to interpreting Scripture. As part of that, he considered it worthwhile to include some guidelines for identifying the canon of the Bible.

The most skillful interpreter of the sacred writings, then, will be he who in the first place has read them all and retained them in his knowledge, if not yet with full understanding, still with such knowledge as reading gives—those of them, at least, that are called canonical. [II.viii.12]

The question that might have come to the minds of his first readers was, “And what are the canonical Scriptures?” The Doctor says this:

Now, in regard to the canonical Scriptures, he must follow the judgment of the greater number of Catholic churches; and among these, of course, a high place must be given to such as have been thought worthy to be the seat of an apostle and to receive epistles. Accordingly, among the canonical Scriptures he will judge according to the following standard: to prefer those that are received by all the Catholic churches to those which some do not receive. Among those, again, which are not received by all, he will prefer such as have the sanction of the greater number and those of greater authority, to such as are held by the smaller number and those of less authority. If, however, he shall find that some books are held by the greater number of churches, and others by the churches of greater authority (though this is not a very likely thing to happen), I think that in such a case the authority on the two sides is to be looked upon as equal. [ibid.; emphasis added]

Since he doesn’t appeal to any specific standard or defined canon as though it were universal, it’s reasonable to say that none existed when St. Augustine was writing the book—or at any rate that he was unaware of one. But it’s important to say at the same time that this doesn’t mean the canon was a matter of opinion for the Catholic Christian. Just as the true teaching concerning the deity of Jesus Christ was always taught prior to Nicaea, so too the canon of Scripture was not wreathed in impenetrable mystery either. The Catholic could know the canon, St. Augustine taught, by “[preferring] those [Scriptures] that are received by all the Catholic churches.”

In other words, St. Augustine appealed to the authority of the Church in order to know the canon, and this canon was transmitted by tradition. Hence we see that the great saint was a Catholic himself, and not a Protestant making ludicrous (and self-defeating) appeals to a “fallible list of infallible books” (a la RC Sproul) or even worse, a “self-authenticating” canon.

St. Augustine was a Catholic.

And what was the canon of Scripture, in his eyes?

Now the whole canon of Scripture on which we say this judgment is to be exercised, is contained in the following books:— Five books of Moses, that is, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; one book of Joshua the son of Nun; one of Judges; one short book called Ruth, which seems rather to belong to the beginning of Kings; next, four books of Kings, and two of Chronicles— these last not following one another, but running parallel, so to speak, and going over the same ground. The books now mentioned are history, which contains a connected narrative of the times, and follows the order of the events. There are other books which seem to follow no regular order, and are connected neither with the order of the preceding books nor with one another, such as Job, and Tobias, and Esther, and Judith, and the two books of Maccabees, and the two of Ezra, which last look more like a sequel to the continuous regular history which terminates with the books of Kings and Chronicles. Next are the Prophets, in which there is one book of the Psalms of David; and three books of Solomon, viz., Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes. For two books, one called Wisdom and the other Ecclesiasticus, are ascribed to Solomon from a certain resemblance of style, but the most likely opinion is that they were written by Jesus the son of Sirach. Still they are to be reckoned among the prophetical books, since they have attained recognition as being authoritative. The remainder are the books which are strictly called the Prophets: twelve separate books of the prophets which are connected with one another, and having never been disjoined, are reckoned as one book; the names of these prophets are as follows:— Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi; then there are the four greater prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel. The authority of the Old Testament is contained within the limits of these forty-four books. That of the New Testament, again, is contained within the following:— Four books of the Gospel, according to Matthew, according to Mark, according to Luke, according to John; fourteen epistles of the Apostle Paul— one to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, one to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to the Philippians, two to the Thessalonians, one to the Colossians, two to Timothy, one to Titus, to Philemon, to the Hebrews: two of Peter; three of John; one of Jude; and one of James; one book of the Acts of the Apostles; and one of the Revelation of John. [II.viii.13; see previous link]

In this list, the only books of the Catholic canon not explicitly mentioned are Baruch and Lamentations. Presumably Augustine would have considered them a part of Jeremiah if their omission was not accidental; the Protestant who wants to make hay about Baruch’s absence would do well to remember that Lamentations is also missing: you can’t say that the one’s absence has canonical weight without attributing the same to the other.

Other items worth noting: Augustine doesn’t appeal to the Jews for the canon of the Old Testament. It is the authority of the Catholic Church that matters for him, not the authority of Israel. Also, his appeal to the apostolic sees as preferable for the canon strongly suggests a presumption of continuity that is only comprehensible on the foundation of apostolic succession; else a see founded by an apostle would (after his death) be of no particular significance whatsoever. But this is not the attitude evinced by our author. Once again we see the same thing: St. Augustine was a Catholic.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

St. Augustine and the Necessity of Scripture

I’ve seen but not read a post or two on this topic elsewhere in the past week or two; it is purely coincidental that it happens to rise to the top of my “posts to write” list at nearly the same time.

St. Augustine writes in On Christian Doctrine:

[A] man who is resting upon faith, hope and love, and who keeps a firm hold upon these, does not need the Scriptures except for the purpose of instructing others. Accordingly, many live without copies of the Scriptures, even in solitude, on the strength of these three graces. So that in their case, I think, the saying is already fulfilled: “Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” Yet by means of these instruments (as they may be called), so great an edifice of faith and love has been built up in them, that, holding to what is perfect, they do not seek for what is only in part perfect—of course, I mean, so far as is possible in this life; for, in comparison with the future life, the life of no just and holy man is perfect here. Therefore the apostle says: “Now abides faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity:” because, when a man shall have reached the eternal world, while the other two graces will fail, love will remain greater and more assured. [I.xxxix.43; emphasis added]

The Doctor is not saying that Scripture has no use; he is not saying that Scripture is unnecessary for any Christian at all. It is useful for teaching, as he says (and of course as Scripture says). Not every Christian rises to the measure of perfection in this life that St. Augustine observes in some men of his day; indeed, it seems that in his humility he would not even include himself among those who no longer need the Bible.

One thing that he is undeniably saying, however, is that the Bible is not a sine qua non of the godly Christian life. A man can, in St. Augustine’s view here, live a life of holiness and godliness without use of the Scriptures—beyond their usefulness for teaching others. The implication is that we may not ipso facto assume that a Christian without a Bible is somehow substandard (or worse, a Christian in name only).

Whatever else we may say about St. Augustine’s view, we may assuredly say that it is contrary to the typical evangelical Protestant’s.

I have seen some Protestants suggest that perhaps this view was not one held by the saint in his maturity, when his views were more well-developed. I do not consider this to be a credible stance. St. Augustine worked on the book in 427, near the end of his life, and it is pretty unbelievable to me that he would have left this portion un-amended if he found it to be contrary to what he believed at the end of his life.

I have seen at least one Protestant try to turn the passage on its head entirely, pretending (incredibly) that the point is that every Christian needs the Bible for purposes of instructing others. Certainly it is true that in this passage St. Augustine does affirm the Scripture’s usefulness for teaching. But to attempt to spin the thing so as to claim that this usefulness is the very point he had in view is simply ridiculous in the extreme. The point is unambiguous: not every Christian requires the Scripture for godly living. Protestants who think otherwise ought to have the integrity to concede that on this point St. Augustine was most assuredly not one of them.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

St. Augustine and the merit of human works

I have often appealed to St. Augustine’s teaching that when God rewards us, he is rewarding what he has given us. The point of course is that the Christian life is a life of grace, even with regard to the obedience that we offer to God. But the Doctor does not say this to the exclusion of the fact that our works are also our own, and that our good deeds merit reward no less than our sins merit punishment.

When we take pity upon a man and care for him, it is for his advantage we do so; but somehow or other our own advantage follows by a sort of natural consequence, for God does not leave the mercy we show to him who needs it to go without reward. Now this is our highest reward, that we should fully enjoy Him, and that all who enjoy Him should enjoy one another in Him. [On Christian Doctrine, I.32; emphasis added]

So we see once again that St. Augustine was not some sort of proto-neo-crypto-quasi-Protestant. Protestants (generally) deny that the good works of Christians merit reward, an error that Trent rightly condemns. But St. Augustine affirms that our works will receive a reward. He was a Catholic.

Monday, February 8, 2010

St. Augustine - Prudence and Charity

It may be that there are some people who so construe the second great commandment (Matthew 22:39) as entailing a burden of compliance that is so extensive as to literally prevent our compliance. We have examined previously what St. Thomas says about this command. In Book I, Chapter xxviii of On Christian Doctrine St. Augustine says this:

Further, all men are to be loved equally. But since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special regard to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstance, are brought into closer connection with you. For, suppose that you had a great deal of some commodity, and felt bound to give it away to somebody who had none, and that it could not be given to more than one person; if two persons presented themselves, neither of whom had either from need or relationship a greater claim upon you than the other, you could do nothing fairer than choose by lot to which you would give what could not be given to both. Just so among men: since you cannot consult for the good of them all, you must take the matter as decided for you by a sort of lot, according as each man happens for the time being to be more closely connected with you. [emphasis added]

St. Augustine makes clear that our obedience to God with regard to the second great commandment must be fulfilled through prudence: we cannot do good to all. And God does not expect us to do so. But since the Bible doesn't tell me whether my neighbor Jim needs my charity more than my neighbor Bob, it is obvious (given the fact that we must make a choice) that how we love our neighbors is an undertaking that must be characterized by prudence. St. Thomas tells us (as the masthead up top reminds us!) that prudence is right reason applied do action, and since charity demands action, prudence must therefore inform our exercise of charity. St. Augustine gives us guidelines for exercising that prudential charity in this passage.

God neither commands nor expects from us what would require omnipotence or infinite resources to perform. We are able to obey him with his help. To say otherwise is to transform God into a sadist who puts impossible burdens on us, it seems to me. But he is not like that. He is just, so that his laws are not so difficult as to be impossible for us, and he is merciful, so that he helps us to obey. Some Protestants suppose falsely that even when we do good, we sin; this error is something that the Council of Trent rightly condemned.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

St. Augustine and St. Anselm again

Here is more evidence of St. Anselm’s dependence upon St. Augustine, at least with respect to the formulation of his ontological argument.

For when the one supreme God of gods is thought of, even by those who believe that there are other gods, and who call them by that name, and worship them as gods, their thought takes the form of an endeavor to reach the conception of a nature, than which nothing more excellent or more exalted exists. And since men are moved by different kinds of pleasures, partly by those which pertain to the bodily senses, partly by those which pertain to the intellect and soul, those of them who are in bondage to sense think that either the heavens, or what appears to be most brilliant in the heavens, or the universe itself, is God of gods: or if they try to get beyond the universe, they picture to themselves something of dazzling brightness, and think of it vaguely as infinite, or of the most beautiful form conceivable; or they represent it in the form of the human body, if they think that superior to all others. Or if they think that there is no one God supreme above the rest, but that there are many or even innumerable gods of equal rank, still these too they conceive as possessed of shape and form, according to what each man thinks the pattern of excellence. Those, on the other hand, who endeavor by an effort of the intelligence to reach a conception of God, place Him above all visible and bodily natures, and even above all intelligent and spiritual natures that are subject to change. All, however, strive emulously to exalt the excellence of God: nor could any one be found to believe that any being to whom there exists a superior is God. And so all concur in believing that God is that which excels in dignity all other objects. [On Christian Doctrine, I.vii; emphasis added]

St. Thomas on the Divine Simplicity

In a recent combox I was asked about resources concerning the Simplicity of God. Here, for those who are interested, are two more items related to this subject.

The Oxford book of Selected Philosophical Writings of St. Thomas includes (passage 24, pp. 230-240 in the edition I have) a section from the Commentary on the Sentences, related to “How we Know One Simple God by Many Concepts.” I couldn’t find this online, but the Oxford book says it’s taken from Book I of the Commentary, Distinction 2, 1.3. I thought it was helpful.

Similarly, there is another passage from the Commentary that I did find online: Book I, Distinction 8, Question 4, Concerning God’s Simplicity.

I hope that these will prove useful.

St. Augustine and St. Thomas - The Image of God in Man

St. Augustine and St. Thomas agree in saying that the image of God in us must be understood as referring to the fact that we are rational beings.

St. Augustine:

We behold the face of the earth furnished with terrestrial creatures, and man, created after Your image and likeness, in that very image and likeness of You (that is, the power of reason and understanding) on account of which he was set over all irrational creatures. [Confessions XIII.32]

St. Thomas:

Not every likeness, not even what is copied from something else, is sufficient to make an image; for if the likeness be only generic, or existing by virtue of some common accident, this does not suffice for one thing to be the image of another. For instance, a worm, though from man it may originate, cannot be called man's image, merely because of the generic likeness. Nor, if anything is made white like something else, can we say that it is the image of that thing; for whiteness is an accident belonging to many species. But the nature of an image requires likeness in species; thus the image of the king exists in his son: or, at least, in some specific accident, and chiefly in the shape; thus, we speak of a man's image in copper. Whence Hilary says pointedly that "an image is of the same species."

Now it is manifest that specific likeness follows the ultimate difference. But some things are like to God first and most commonly because they exist; secondly, because they live; and thirdly because they know or understand; and these last, as Augustine says (QQ. 83, qu. 51) "approach so near to God in likeness, that among all creatures nothing comes nearer to Him." It is clear, therefore, that intellectual creatures alone, properly speaking, are made to God's image. [ST I, Q93, A2]

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Trent on Justification - Canon 33 (and concluding remarks)

It is false to say that the Catholic doctrine of justification in any way detracts from the glory of God and merits of Christ; to the contrary, they are made more glorious.

If any one saith,that,by the Catholic doctrine touching Justification, by this holy Synod inset forth in this present decree, the glory of God, or the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ are in any way derogated from, and not rather that the truth of our faith, and the glory in fine of God and of Jesus Christ are rendered (more) illustrious; let him be anathema. [Council of Trent, Canon 33 on Justification]

There really isn't anything to observe here with respect to our present focus on whether Trent teaches justification by grace alone. So instead, by way of concluding summary, I hope that is sufficiently clear now that Trent in no way teaches a “works-based” gospel, and their detractors really need to cherry-pick in the most abominable way in order to pretend otherwise. The great chapter VII of the Decree on Justification (discussed here) leaves no room for any doubt about the subject, declaring as it does what exactly the causes of justification are. It ought to go without saying that none of them are human; all the causes of our justification are found in God, his grace, his purposes, and his glory. None of them are found in us.

Now if this is what Trent explicitly teaches, it is gross falsehood (hopefully born in ignorance, but falsehood nonetheless) for anyone to say that the Catholic Church teaches a justification based upon human works.

But maybe some will say that Vatican II has changed the game in some way, and that this later council has taught justification by works. So we will be turning our attention to Vatican II, and later to the Catechism, to see whether our critics can sustain their complaints there. Clearly they cannot sustain them from the teaching and canons of Trent, nor of St. Thomas, as we have seen.

Trent on Justification - Canon 32

The 32nd canon on Justification has to do with the question of whether our good works may truly be called ours.

If any one saith, that the good works of one that is justified are in such manner the gifts of God, as that they are not also the good merits of him that is justified; or, that the said justified, by the good works which he performs through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of that eternal life,-if so be, however, that he depart in grace,-and also an increase of glory; let him be anathema.

Two important observations for those who erroneously suppose that the Catholic Church teaches a so-called “works-based gospel:” First, the canon says that it’s the good works of “one that is justified” that are in view here: in other words, it relates to those who have already been justified. Secondly, they tell us that the good works of such a man merit increase of grace, not its initial reception. In short: they are talking about the good deeds of those who are already Christians.

Even so, they do not deny that a Christian’s good works are in fact gifts of God, as they have previously said in Chapter XVI of the Decree on Justification (which we have previously examined).

The Fathers of Trent are saying that how we live our lives as Christians really does matter, and they are condemning the error of some Protestants who falsely say otherwise. We are justified by grace alone, as Trent teaches us, but having been justified, we must then strive to live lives of holiness with God’s help.

St. Augustine and the Meanings of Scripture

St. Augustine believed that the Scripture has not merely a single meaning, but rather more than one meaning. Although this should not in principle be contrary to the Protestant idea of “sola scriptura,” it’s not how Protestants typically view things. For example, they tend to believe (if my own background is any measure) that if one “goes beyond” (so to speak) the single meaning intended by the human author, then anything goes and there is nothing to prevent the interpreter from making the Bible mean anything he wishes.

But this is operating in a vacuum, as we have seen in the past. As the Catechism says:

Read the Scripture within “the living Tradition of the whole Church.” [§113]

It’s not the case that “anything goes” for the Christian when he reads the Bible, for he must always “read the Scripture within ‘the living Tradition of the whole Church.’” He is not free to read the Bible in any silly, idiosyncratic way that he wishes, nor after the traditions of newcomers on the block. No. He must read it with the constant teaching of the Church in view, and understand it within the context of that teaching.

So there is no danger when St. Augustine says that Scripture may indeed have multiple meanings:

42. Thus, when one shall say, “He [Moses] meant as I do,” and another, “Nay, but as I do,” I suppose that I am speaking more religiously when I say, “Why not rather as both, if both be true?” And if there be a third truth, or a fourth, and if any one seek any truth altogether different in those words, why may not he be believed to have seen all these, through whom one God has tempered the Holy Scriptures to the senses of many, about to see therein things true but different? I certainly,— and I fearlessly declare it from my heart—were I to write anything to have the highest authority, should prefer so to write, that whatever of truth any one might apprehend concerning these matters, my words should re-echo, rather than that I should set down one true opinion so clearly on this as that I should exclude the rest, that which was false in which could not offend me. Therefore am I unwilling, O my God, to be so headstrong as not to believe that from You this man [Moses] has received so much. He, surely, when he wrote those words, perceived and thought whatever of truth we have been able to discover, yea, and whatever we have not been able, nor yet are able, though still it may be found in them.

43. Finally, O Lord, who art God, and not flesh and blood, if man does see anything less, can anything lie hidden from “Your good Spirit,” who shall “lead me into the land of uprightness,” which You Yourself, by those words, were about to reveal to future readers, although he through whom they were spoken, amid the many interpretations that might have been found, fixed on but one? Which, if it be so, let that which he thought on be more exalted than the rest. But to us, O Lord, either point out the same, or any other true one which may be pleasing unto You; so that whether You make known to us that which You did to that man of Yours, or some other by occasion of the same words, yet You may feed us, not error deceive us. Behold, O Lord my God, how many things we have written concerning a few words—how many, I beseech You! What strength of ours, what ages would suffice for all Your books after this manner? Permit me, therefore, in these more briefly to confess unto You, and to select some one true, certain, and good sense, that You shall inspire, although many senses offer themselves, where many, indeed, I may; this being the faith of my confession, that if I should say that which Your minister felt, rightly and profitably, this I should strive for; the which if I shall not attain, yet I may say that which Your Truth willed through Its words to say unto me, which said also unto him what It willed. [Confessions, XII.31-32; emphasis added]

Later, in Book XIII, St. Augustine insists that we must not be limited to the literal sense of Scripture in at least one place, but rather that we must seek its figurative meaning:

But if we treat those words as taken figuratively (the which I rather suppose the Scripture intended, which does not, verily, superfluously attribute this benediction to the offspring of marine animals and man only) [XIII.24]

It’s probably worth pointing out that he is not writing in reference to a psalm or a prophecy in which we might say that the figurative sense is the literal sense, so to speak; but rather, he is writing about Genesis 1—where many Protestants insist no figurative sense is rightly to be sought. But the point here isn’t to quibble about the right way to read Genesis, although the fact that Christians 1600 years ago were seeking a figurative meaning ought to give pause to those who insist that doing so is a recent novelty borne solely from an effort to harmonize Scripture and science. No, the point is that St. Augustine’s approach to the Bible is consistent with the Catholic Church’s constant teaching (§§115-119) about the multiple meanings of the Bible.

Friday, February 5, 2010

St. Augustine - We enter the kingdom of heaven through Baptism

St. Augustine was a Catholic, not some strange form of quasi-crypto-proto-incipient-Protestant, notwithstanding the fever dreams of those Protestants who try to claim him for themselves. And as a Catholic, he understood that Baptism is the way that we gain entry to God’s kingdom.

And hereby, in Your Word, not the depth of the sea, but the earth parted from the bitterness of the waters, brings forth not the creeping and flying creature that has life, but the living soul itself. For now has it no longer need of baptism, as the heathen have, and as itself had when it was covered with the waters—for no other entrance is there into the kingdom of heaven, since You have appointed that this should be the entrance [Confessions XIII.21, emphasis added]

Now if this be the case, then it is clear that Baptism actually does something to us and for us, and if that is the case, then it is clear that the sacraments work ex opere operato, as the Catholic Church teaches, and as St. Augustine obviously believed himself.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Trent on Justification - Canon 31

The 31st canon addresses an error related to the good works that Christians must do.

If any one saith, that the justified sins when he performs good works with a view to an eternal recompense; let him be anathema.

It is no more sinful to hope for an eternal reward than it is for a child to hope to receive a reward from his father for doing good. Only a troll of a parent would say otherwise. Only a troll would send such a child away empty-handed, and our heavenly Father would not do that to us in return for our good deeds, done for love of him and in hope of his blessing.

Of course, if one does such works not out of love for God, but rather by way of hoping to extort something from God, he is gravely mistaken. We may not say, “I’ve done so many good things that God just has to let me into heaven.” We cannot merit initial justification by anything that we do, as we have seen repeatedly in this series. That is the gift of God, given solely by his grace (and nothing in canon 31 contradicts this).

That bad attitude reminds me of a Calvin and Hobbes strip where Dad tells Calvin that he can earn a dollar (or some amount of money) by picking up sticks in the yard. Calvin, in high dudgeon, retorts that he won’t do it for less than two, or five, or some such amount (something a few times more than he was offered). Dad replies, “In a minute you’ll do it just because I say so,” at which point Calvin haughtily accepts the dollar.

We don’t deserve dollars from God, and it is ridiculous (and wicked) for us to start supposing that our good deeds are worth quite a lot, and we had best get it. With that attitude, our works are worthless.

St. Augustine - Christ is the Eucharist

St. Augustine believed not merely that the Eucharist represents Christ, but that it actually is He.

For He judges and approves what He finds right, but disapproves what He finds amiss, whether in the celebration of those sacraments by which are initiated those whom Your mercy searches out in many waters; or in that in which the Fish Itself is exhibited, which, being raised from the deep, the devout earth feeds upon… [Confessions, XIII.23; emphasis added]

Note that the “Fish” is a symbolic term for the Lord Jesus Christ, based upon the ΙχΘυς anagram, which represents the first letters of the Greek words for Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior. “The Fish Itself,” then, can be none other than Jesus Christ Himself: it is He who is exhibited in the Eucharist; it is Him upon whom the faithful feed.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Trent on Justification - Canon 30

Trent’s 30th canon on justification addresses errors related to temporal penalties for sin.

If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema.

Temporal penalties for sin are a stumbling block for some Protestants, but they really shouldn’t be. Our sins have consequences that aren’t strictly eternal, as David learned (when he was told that his son would die, although his sins were forgiven). The “Reformers” were wrong when they abandoned this doctrine.

In any case, neither Purgatory nor temporal punishment is contrary to the doctrine of justification by grace alone.

St. Augustine and Prayers for the Dead

St. Augustine tells us that he prayed for the sake of his mother St. Monica’s soul.

I know that she acted mercifully, and from the heart forgave her debtors their debts; do Thou also forgive her debts, whatever she contracted during so many years since the water of salvation. Forgive her, O Lord, forgive her, I beseech You; enter not into judgment with her. Let Your mercy be exalted above Your justice, because Your words are true, and You have promised mercy unto the merciful; which You gave them to be who wilt have mercy on whom You will have mercy, and wilt have compassion on whom You have had compassion. [Confessions IX.13; emphasis added]

Note that he records this not simply as something that he did on the day of her death, nor even only at her funeral, but that he records it as his constant prayer for her, even years after her death, that her sins might be forgiven.

Those who would pretend that St. Augustine is a hero of Protestantism would do well to consider this. He is a hero of the Catholic Faith, and your own hero to the extent that you agree with him (and not vice-versa).

Monday, February 1, 2010

Trent on Justification - Canon 29

The 29th Canon on Justification of the Council of Trent has to do with restoration to fellowship with God following a fall into mortal sin.

If any one saith, that he, who has fallen after baptism, is not able by the grace of God to rise again; or, that he is able indeed to recover the justice which he has lost, but by faith alone without the sacrament of Penance, contrary to what the holy Roman and universal Church—instructed by Christ and his Apostles—has hitherto professed, observed, and taught; let him be anathema.

The Christian may lose his salvation through sin, as we have seen that the Council teaches and affirms; but his fellowship with God may certainly be restored through the sacrament of Penance, as they tell us here. It is insufficient, despite the claims of Protestants, merely to have faith in order for one’s fellowship with God to be renewed.

This canon teaches nothing contrary to the doctrine of justification by grace alone.